Archive for December 2008

Dealing with a duplicate coat of arms

So, you find out someone else has the same coat of arms as you. What can you do about it?

First of all, if that person or corporation is in a jurisdiction where you do not have a presence in (physical, financial, commercial, etc.) then you’re out of luck. As mentioned in a [previous post on unique arms], entities in different jurisdictions can have identical arms without having any relation to each other. Unless, of course, you have already registered your arms there.

COA Arms of the heir to the French throneIn most cases, an armiger must prove that there has been damage caused by the use of the arms by another. A very much referred to case is that in France between the various pretenders to the, now defunct, throne of France. In 1987, Henri, comte de Paris, duc de France and the Orleanist pretender to the throne of France sued Louis-Alphonse (Louis XX), duc d’Anjou and the Legitimist pretender to the same throne for the alleged usurpation of the undifferenced arms of France. The move is believed to have been to secure the claims to the throne of one pretender over the other. Regardless of whatever supposed motivations of the suit, it was not proven to the court that any damages were incurred on the suing party (Henri) by the use of the same arms by the defendant (Louis). The court then dismissed the case without discussing its merits.

In other jurisdictions where there are specific laws regarding the use of heraldry, such as England and Scotland, there are legal avenues one can take to resolve a claim.

COA College of ArmsIn England, one may address the Court of Chivalry presided by the Earl Marshal of England (hereditary title of the Duke of Norfolk). A point must be made that this court last convened in 1955 in the case of Manchester Corporation v Manchester Palace of Varieties Ltd [1955] 1 All ER 387 and it was the first time since 1732.

COA Lord LyonIn Scotland, things are a significantly better than perhaps any other jurisdiction in the world. The Court of the Lord Lyon deals with all cases heraldic and is an integral part of the Scottish legal system convening regularly. Presided by the Lord Lyon, the Lyon Court has it’s own prosecutor and can bring charges against individuals or corporations violating the Scottish laws of heraldry. The most famous recent case was when the Lyon Court ordered a corporation owned by Donald Trump from displaying its coat of arms, in any form, in early 2008.

Unique arms?

So, you think a coat of arms is always unique? Well, you may be surprised!

Most of us have been brought up (or learned) to expect that any given coat of arms is unique and that nobody else in the world should have an identical shield. Doing so would be considered at best ignorance and at worst a form of identity theft.

However, this is not always the case.

Arms are typically unique within a given jurisdiction, such as that of the College of Arms or of the Lord Lyon, or a country or region such as any of the German states. This means that arms could very well, and have been, duplicated across jurisdictional borders. I will be using the term “jurisdiction” to refer an area where arms are covered by common rules/tradition/authority/etc.


Azure a cross Argent

In some cases, arms have been duplicated within the same country.
The arms above blazoned “Azure a cross Argent” are those of Greece and the French towns of Embrun, Boucq and Bousies.

Another “rule” of heraldry is that if a person bears the coat of arms of the family of “X” then that person also has the surname of “X”. This is also not an absolute rule. In countries, such as Poland, all the descendents of an armiger inherit the undifferenced arms. After a few generations, a large number of people with various surnames end up with the exact same arms just because they have a common armigerous ancestor.

COA Lucki

The arms above are those of the ancient Polish family of Sas and also borne by the Lucki family as well as the town of Frampol.


We know that a coat of arms identifies an individual and that individual either was granted, assumed or inherited arms. In the case of granted arms, it can be safely assumed that the arms are unique within the granting authority’s jurisdiction. If the arms are assumed, one hopes that the armiger made sure that the arms are unique.

However, what happens if one inherits arms from their father? They bear the same arms as their father, is the answer. But, what if the father is still alive? What if the inheriting armiger has siblings? The arms aren’t unique anymore to the individual!

Naturally, this is a problem in those countries where arms are traditionally or legally unique, which is not the case universally.

This problem is handled through a system called “cadency” developed in each country. The best known systems of cadency are the English and Scottish ones along with the relative newcomer Canada. Heraldry,as most things medieval, is a predominantly male tradition and as such, cadency deals with inheritance of the male offspring. What the Canadian Heraldic Authority has given us is a system of cadency for daughters, a first as far as I know.

How shields are marked is through what is called a “brissure”. A brissure is nothing more than a smaller sized charge placed somewhere on the shield and generally does not have to follow the [tincture rule]. However, in the Scottish tradition, there is a combination of tinctures, divisions and bordures in addition to brissures used.


The image to the left (courtesy of Wikipedia) displays the Canadian system of cadency with the brissures for each offspring of either gender. Note that the male system is identical to that used in the English tradition.

The marks of cadency for the male offspring are:

  • First born son: Label of 3 points
  • Second born: A crescent
  • Third born: A mullet (star of 5 points)
  • Fourth born: A martlet (a bird with no beak or legs)
  • Fifth born: An annulet (a ring)
  • Sixth Born: A fleur-de-lys (lilly)
  • Seventh born: A rose
  • Eight born: A cross moline
  • Ninth born: A quatrefoil

For the female offspring:

  • First born daughter: A heart
  • Second born: An ermine spot
  • Third born: A snowflake
  • Fourth born: A fir twig
  • Fifth born: A chess rook
  • Sixth Born: An escallop
  • Seventh born: A harp
  • Eight born: A buckle
  • Ninth born: A clarichorde

Scottish Cadency

The image above (also courtesy of Wikipedia) illustrates the Scottish system of cadency with all its variations.

A note should be made regarding the label used by the first born son. As opposed to the marks of cadency used by the other children, which are permanent, the label is temporary. In other words, the children of the second son will inherit their grandfather’s arms with the addition of the crescent and whatever brissure applicable to them upon that brissure. This also means that the second son of the second son will end up with a crescent upon the crescent.

Specifically on the label, and assuming the armiger father is still alive, the first son uses a label of 3 points. The first son of this first son will bear a label of 5 points and so on and so forth, adding 2 more points with every generation. When the bearer of the plain arms passes away, every generation after “moves up” a level and gets their father’s version of the shield.

In the event that two descending armigers end up with identical arms after the cadency system, they’ll have to add further differencing. In the case of the label, it usually means adding a charge to the points.

Another note that should be made is that the crest, if inherited, also bears the same mark of cadency as on the shield.

In the case of members of a royal house, the rules are different as it is considered that royals are able to decide what arms they have. An excellent source on the marks of cadency of the British royals is a page on François Velde’s heraldica.

Marshalling of arms

There are cases when two or more sets of arms are combined into a new one. Some of these cases are:

  • Combining the arms of both armigerous parents.
  • Obtaining a new office, thereby combining the personal arms and the arms of the office.
  • Upon marriage, combining the arms of the spouses.

There are four basic types of marshalling:

COA Queen Sophia of Spain

Impalement places each originating shield in its entirety on either half of the new shield.

COA Cedynia

Dimidiation is taking one half of each shield (parted vertically) and putting them together on a new shield.

COA Henri Torchapelle

Quartering is splitting the new shield into four quarters and placing arms in each of the quarters. When quartering parental arms, the arms of the father are placed in quarters 1 and 4 (top left and bottom right) and of the mother in quarters 2 and 3.

COA Ferdinand I

Using an inescutcheon of arms is placed on the middle of another shield to create a new one to show a union or pretense.

Sometimes, all this marshalling can combine to create an extremely complex coat of arms, such as those of Richard Temple-Grenville, Marquess of Chandos shown below. This emblazonment combines the 719 quarterings of the family and is known as the “Grenville Diptych”.

Grenville Diptych

Bruno Heim’s “Or & Argent”

Or and Argent

Bruno Heim’s “Or & Argent” is a fascinating book that explores what is perhaps the most fundamental rule in heraldry: the rule of placing metal on metal (Or and Argent in heraldic terms) on a shield.

In the entry on the rule of tinctures, we explored the reasoning behind these rules and also saw a few examples of where these rules were simply tossed out the window. This book goes one step further however, focusing on the rule of metal on metal.

Bruno Heim was a Cardinal in the Catholic Church and for a number of years the Papal Nuncio in England. Heim is considered to have been the foremost authority on heraldry in the Catholic Church and his work has influenced the area of heraldry in a great way.

In this book, Heim explores the heraldic axiom of not placing metal on metal on a shield and questioning its validity. Almost all the literature expounds upon this rule as if it is the most significant of them all and it is refreshing to read a book that takes that rule head on; especially from an authority such as Bruno Heim.

What he accomplishes in this book is to show that the rule did not always exist and that, like many other rules, it is ignored more that it is observed. He quotes and presents many of the arms found in Rietstap’s Armorial Général (in which we find over 1500 examples) and Papworth’s Ordinary (over 200 examples) as well as arms documented elsewhere.

In this book, Heim also demonstrates examples from countries across Europe in clear violation of the rule, proving that the famous arms of the Crusader Kingdom of Jersulam is not the only exception. Countries such as England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden are well represented.

Now, one may ask what would drive someone to write such a book? The answer is given by Heim himself on the very last page and I will quote him directly:

13. HEIM: Argent, on a “Dreiberg” (triple mount) Vert a lion rampant Or holding a horseshoe Azure surmounted by a mullet of the third. These arms were painted on a stained glass for Joh. Heimb in 1640. Joh. Heimb is the author’s direct ancestor, n. 1024 on the pedigree, who died 15th February 1659. This explains why I have been looking for other instances of Or and Argent arms for very many years, and this book shows part of the harvest of my endeavours. (These arms are still publicly exposed in Boningen, Solothurn, Switzerland, two miles from where Johannes Heimb lived and had his house and land).